Overall, I Am Harvey Milk is in 12 movements because I wanted 11 of them to represent the 11 months Harvey Milk served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The 12th movement (the prologue) allowed me to start the piece with Harvey as a boy which, for me, was important because I wanted to show how, as children, we are who we are despite what we grow into.
1. "An Operatic Masterpiece":
This movement begins with an excerpted recording from Puccini's La Boheme. As I share a birthday with Puccini (Dec. 22), I found this irresistible—even if it's madness to begin an original work with 45 seconds of Puccini. It just felt right to me for Young Harvey to revel in the operatic music he so loved.
Harvey Milk's passion for opera was evident from an early age. As a child, he went to see operas at the Metropolitan Opera House. Harvey begins the oratorio as a child, singing about his yearning to have a life worthy of the passionate stories he so loved watching on stage. The first draft of this movement was a solo for the boy soloist with the men's chorus but, after taking a closer look, I realized that the young Harvey Milk needed to meet the older Harvey Milk. That's when I added the adult Harvey, and had the boy and man sing to each other. Looking back on my own life I sometimes "sing" to my younger self. It seemed a fitting way to start the piece.
2. "I Am the Bullet":
I thought about what the second movement should be, following something as hopeful as "An Operatic Masterpiece." I realized that I should go to the end of the story. I wasn't sure what the shape of the oratorio would be yet, but I knew I didn't want to present a traditional narrative. So, chronologically starting at the beginning when Harvey was a boy and then going to the end when Harvey was assassinated opened the rest of the evening up to be whatever my imagination wanted.
I thought about the idea of an inanimate object – in this case, a bullet – and how it has no responsibility to do the right thing, to be held to allegiances or opinions, and how this thing was the last thing to encounter Harvey Milk. It sings:
I AM NOT A VILLAIN
I AM NOT A HERO
I AM JUST A WITNESS
AND WHAT DID I SEE?
WHAT WAS HE THINKING?
I'M THE ONLY ONE WHO KNOWS
The bullet – the accomplice in Harvey Milk's death – is the one who tells us what Harvey was thinking in that final moment.
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